Jesus says: ‘What is born of the flesh is flesh and what is born of the Spirit is spirit’
How do you make decisions?
It seems to me that there are three ways of doing so:
Firstly, the body decides. This is the decision that might be made when you see a pretty girl across the room and you embark on your campaign to woo her; regardless of all other considerations, like already being committed to someone else…
Or it might be when you see the ice bun in the shop window, which you simply must have, even though you have just had lunch……
Or you fail to cross the road to greet a neighbour because, well, they seem from a distance to be a bit different….
Or when you dangerously cut up the person you have been following for ever on a narrow road waving your fist as you pass them because they have been driving SO SLOWLY
Or, the one that lawyers like, (because they hear the cash register ringing), when you instruct a lawyer with the magic words ‘I am going to sue him, however much it costs. It’s a matter of principle!’
Lust, greed, fear and anger. The body (our emotions, our desires) is calling the shots; the body is deciding our destiny….
So one way of making decisions is for the body to decide….
Secondly, another way of making decisions (this will be the one that everyone will claim to be how they decide things): the mind decides.
You are faced with a decision: you cooly weigh up the pros and cons; you list them down on a piece of paper; you work out what could possibly go wrong; you work out the upsides of taking a risk, how you can mitigate the risks and you factor that into your thinking; you get advice from your advisers; you offer a price for the house, the business, the investment, which takes into account all those things.
What you are doing is rational, reasonable, sensible, thought through; the mind is deciding.
So the first way of making decisions is for the body to decide and the second way of making decisions is for the mind to decide.
The third way of making decisions is for the Holy Spirit to decide; instead of allowing your body free rein or analysing what is sensible, when you are faced with a decision……you pray….
You ask your Christian friends to pray too, ‘what should I do?’
As you read the Bible in your daily quiet time, you read with this particular issue at the forefront of your mind and then you watch to see how the Lord responds, in the circumstances that follow.
Then, so often, in my experience, you notice something, and it hits you in the chest; someone says something very unexpected; which strikes you as relating to the conundrum you face; you read something in the Bible which seems to stand out to you and is relevant; or out of the blue something extraordinary happens, which seems to speak into the situation, which seems to confirm the direction that you should go.
This has happened so often in our lives and in the lives of our friends.
Something of this kind prompted me to leave the law partnership, I was in in 2005; something of this kind prompted us to sell our house in Kilmeston in 2015 and to move to Itchen Valley; something of this kind prompted Tim Clapp (as he said last Sunday), to cross the road, like the Good Samaritan, to engage with his neighbour after seeing him at a distance for three years, a neighbour who was of a different generation, and with whom Tim had previously assumed he would have nothing in common…..
This is the Holy Spirit deciding; the Holy Spirit joining in and being part of our lives; the Holy Spirit setting the compass for our direction of travel.
When Jesus says to Nicodemus, ’What is born of the flesh is flesh and what is born of the Spirit is Spirit’, he is highlighting the difference between how we make decisions, if we are making them driven by the body, the mind or the spirit.
When we decide according to the body, most people in the world will think we are foolish…..
When we decide according to the mind, most people in the world will think we are sensible…
When we decide according to the Spirit, most people in the world will think we are mad….
You see, we can all agree, in the cool light of day, that deciding things in accordance with the screaming demands of the body, is clearly foolishness; the sort of thing results in regrets later, when you are sober….results in Las Vegas weddings….the obesity problem….road rage prosecutions…..disfunctional neighbourhoods; we can all see that this is foolishness.
Decisions according to the mind look very reasonable, measured, considered, sensible, rational, this is the sort of way that the lawyer Nicodemus would have been used to making decisions,
But Jesus is saying that decisions made entirely in the mind, don’t necessarily take into account the whole picture because (verse 3) you cannot even see the whole picture, if you have only been born of the flesh… and not of the Spirit; you cannot even see the Kingdom of God, unless you are born again of the Spirit.
Decisions of the Spirit make no sense to those who are dominated by the flesh, and the mind is really as much flesh as the body, it is part of the natural created world, whereas the Spirit operates out an entirely different dimension: the supernatural, the timeless, beyond creation the Alpha and Omega, the Spirit operates from the perspective of being able to see the beginning and the end but we only get glimpses of this other dimension, this world of the Kingdom of God which is just as real as the world we live in from day to day and the battles that go on there for our souls between the forces of good and evil continually affect what happens in the tangible, the perceived world around us, but many of us cannot see what the Holy Spirit is doing or even where the boundaries of the Kingdom of God lie.
In verse 8 Jesus gives the analogy of wind Jesus says ‘The wind blows wherever it pleases.You hear its sound but you cannot tell where it comes from, or where it is going’ from the perspective of people in the first century, the wind was entirely unpredictable operating by rules which were a mystery, thus Jesus is saying we cannot see the Holy Spirit, we don’t know his motivations where he is coming from, we can only see His effect, the wind as we feel it….
So, making decisions in accordance with what we perceive is the guidance of the Holy Spirit involves a lot of trust, because we don’t know the outcomes when we make these decisions and making decisions on this basis makes no sense at all to the sensible…
But decisions taken, motivated by the spirit which are born of the Spirit; give birth to the Spirit.
To life transforming boundless blessings for us and for others.
Just as the decision we took to leave the law firm in 2005 on really good terms, looked like incredible wisdom, prescience in fact, in 2008 when so many partners were summarily fired during the financial crash and led to my very unexpected ordination in 2012
Just as the move here from Kilmeston completely revolutionised our ministry here and made it possible for me to be a candidate for this job as Rector, which is so rewarding and enjoyable for us; a job which was not at all in prospect or sought when we made the decision,
just as the brave decision that Tim took to cross the road to meet Frank, resulted in discovering that he was a great friend of Tim’s grandfather, who had been looking for him for 20 years…..
decisions made in the Spirit have been shown to give birth to Spirit in a way which we could not possibly perceive when we made them and seemed crazy to everyone else at the time.
And so we come to our baptismal candidate today: Alexander
We can think as parents that we have done a very good job of parenting if a child has developed, by the time they are adults, to his or her full potential physically and intellectually: the body and the mind.
But I would suggest that it is equally important, if not more important to develop a child spiritually.
In a world where so many teenagers and young adults have lost any sense of the purpose or meaning of life, with disastrous consequences, the urgency and the heavy responsibility on parents and god parents to develop their child spiritually could not be more important or urgent and I recognise that this might involve taking responsibility for our own spiritual development as well, by investigating the claims of Jesus Christ and looking at the evidence for his life, death and resurrection.
Today, at this baptism there is more going on than meets the eye. A baptism is like an iceberg more to it under the surface than you can see.
We are lighting a little pilot light of the Holy Spirit in Alexander’s heart, which if encouraged by Christopher and Phyllida and his god parents Gemma and Hartley will, I am certain, enable the pilot light to fire up like a gas boiler as he grows up, will result in him being an incredible blessing to all he comes into contact with, because the Holy Spirit ignited in him today will give birth to spirit and we can expect that God will work through him to transform the world.
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Jn 3:1–16). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.